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Parashat Shemot


The Torah tells us of the devoted midwives who endangered their lives by not only disobeying Pharaoh's orders to kill the newborn boys, but also bringing them food and providing whatever help was needed. These women were mother and daughter - Yocheved and Miriam. The Torah gives them special names to express their characteristics - "Shifrah" and "Puah." The name "Shifrah" (related to the Hebrew word, "le'shaper," or to beautify) referred to the midwife's bathing the child and changing his soiled clothing. "Pu'ah" describes how the midwife would warmly and softly speak to the child, as women would do in consoling a crying baby. (See Rashi.)

As a reward, these women were blessed with "batim," or "homes." Yocheved became the mother of Moshe and Aharon - the one who brought us the Torah, and the kohan gadol who fathered generations of kohanim gedolim who would serve Hashem in the Mikdash. Miriam married Kalev ben Yefuneh, from whom the chain of the kings from David descended.

Yocheved, who concerned herself with the child's basic, physical needs, earned the privilege of becoming the mother of Am Yisrael's spiritual leadership. Pu'ah, who consoled and relaxed the babies, caring for their emotional needs of love and attention, emerged as the mother of Jewish royalty. Indeed, this constitutes the primary responsibility of a king, to give his love and attention to his constituency.

Thus, when they say that every rabbi is like a king in his congregation, and every parent is a king in his family, we must realize that this constitutes his primary responsibility, the very task for which he was chosen!


Has anyone recently seen the makot (plagues) of Egypt? The sacred Ba'al Shem Tov zs"l found for us a pasuk in Sefer Yirmiyahu (32:20) that proves to be most illuminating for us. Just prior to the destruction, the prophet prays to the Al-mighty, "Ah! Hashem Elokim, behold, You made heaven and earth with Your great strength and outstretched arm; nothing is too wondrous for You! For You have made signs and wonders in the land of Egypt to this very day - and in Yisrael and Aram - and You made for yourself a name, as on this day."

"To this very day"?! Didn't each plague last only seven days and then disappear?

The Ba'al Shem Tov answered that indeed, the plagues occur "to this very day." Anyone who hearts and eyes are open can contemplate and identify all around him "signs and wonders - and in Yisrael and Aram" - miracles that occur every day!

The plagues of Egypt and yessi'at Missrayim did not happen only for themselves. If we are commanded to recall these events every morning and evening, as well as to dedicate the festival of Pesah, particularly the night of the seder, for this purpose, it is because they teach us an eternal lesson - that Hashem repays every individual for his actions. The Midrash (Beresheet Rabbah 11:10) writes that upon completing the creation of the world Hashem brought all activity to a halt, but only "work concerning His world." He did not rest, according to the Midrash, "neither from the work of the wicked nor the work of the righteous - He rather continues to work with both." Meaning, He continues to repay all people according to their actions.

However, it is necessary to look carefully for the workings of reward and punishment in creation, to find the Hand of G-d that navigates everything and rules over everything. The sacred Kabbalist, Rav Yis'hak Eizik Haver zs"l addressed our situation by presenting a beautiful parable. A person once committed a severe crime, and the judge decided that a prison term and flogging did not adequately punish the criminal for his misdemeanor. He therefore decided to imprison him without telling him the duration of his prison stay. Every so often, the inmate would be taken from jail to be whipped, sometimes more and sometimes less. Eventually the convict would despair and figure that he was sentenced to a life term with unending whipping. This would be his punishment.

The prisoner saw that he was taken from time to time for flogging and thought that the cruel prison ward was oppressing him on his own accord. He threw himself to the guard's feet and tearfully begged for compassion. The judge heard about this and was infuriated. If the prisoner thinks that he is whipped because this is what the prison guard had decided, rather than realizing that his whippings were part of his punishment, they have lost their meaning. He therefore ordered that his food ration be sized down. The inmate, who now suffered from hunger, realized that he was mistaken and that he was doomed for life. He therefore sat down and wrote an appeal to the judge. In his letter he described his recognition of his wrong, and wrote that if he had been flogged at consistent intervals, he would have understood that this was part of the punishment. Or, if he would have seen the judge as he was whipped, then even if the whippings took place at varying intervals he would have realized that they constituted part of the sentence. But since the judge was not present, and the flogging took place at seemingly random frequency, it was understandable that he pleaded to the prison guard, thinking that he was responsible for the decisions in this regard.

Similarly, as a result of our many sins, a long, difficult exile has been decreed upon us. We are easily misled into thinking that our oppressors torment us indiscriminately, out of their own free will. We therefore work on all levels - foiling terrorist plots, embarking on a vast, multifaceted diplomatic campaign, etc. We have forgotten, however, one thing: to appeal for compassion and a lightening of our sentence, to perform teshuvah and improve our ways. We ignore the words of the prophet - "Woe unto Assyria, rod of My anger, in whose hand, as a staff, is My fury!" (Yeshayahu 10:5).

We respond with two excuses: "Why Hashem, do You stand at a distance, do You hide during times of distress?" (Tehillim 10:1). In other words, when we do not see the judge before us, and we don't know ahead of time when the beating will occur and the time of crisis will arrive, we are led to believe that the prison guard beats us whenever he wishes.

The same occurred to Benei Yisrael in Egypt: "Benei Yisrael moaned from the labor, and they cried." They looked only at the oppression. "Their prayers rose to G-d from the labor." Moshe was then sent to show them the truth, to reveal to them the Judge and warn of the makot in advance. This taught them that nothing happens by itself. If we wish to be saved, then we must turn not to the prison guard, but to the Judge, with heartfelt prayer, and then He will quickly redeem us!


"Benei Yisrael were fertile and prolific; they multiplied and increased very greatly"

Rabbenu Avraham Ibn Ezra zs"l explains that this pasuk speaks of a progression in Benei Yisrael's population growth. First, "they gave birth as a tree gives forth fruit," without any infertile man or woman. Secondly, "vayishressu" - they had multiple births, twins and even more, six at once according to Hazal's tradition. Additionally, "vayirbu" - they had no infant deaths, thus becoming increasingly populous. "Vaya'assmu" - they were very strong people, "bim'od, me'od" - reaching the apex of population growth and strength!

"Benei Yisrael were fertile and prolific; they multiplied and increased very greatly"

The Ba'alei Ha'Tosefot wrote that the numerical value of "paru vayishressu" (were fertile and prolific) equals that of "shishah be'keres echad," or "six in a single womb." The Ba'al Haturim adds that the pasuk here employs six expressions: "paru," "vayishressu," "vayirbyu," "vaya'assmu," "bime'od" and "me'od," corresponding to the six children each Israelite woman would bear in a single birth.

"Benei Yisrael were fertile and prolific; they multiplied and increased very greatly"

Rabbenu Vidal Sarfati zs"l writes that the pasuk here comes to tell us that the various stages of development followed one another with remarkable speed: the birth ("paru" - were fertile), the period of nursing, when the baby crawls like an insect ("vayishressu," related to the word, "sheress," insect), the years of growth ("vayirbu," they multiplied, which also relates to the Hebrew word for young boy), and the strong, teenage years ("vaya'assmu," from the word "assum," strong).

"Benei Yisrael were fertile and prolific; they multiplied and increased very greatly"

The Hid"a zs"l brings (in his work, "Simhat Haregel") the comment of "the great rabbi of his generation, Maharam Ben Haviv zs"l," that the high birth rate could have potentially placed a weighty financial burden on the slave parents. How did they afford to feed their families? The pasuk responds with the expression, "vaya'assmu bime'od me'od," which refers to money, as Hazal explain the pasuk, "bechol me'odecha" to mean, "with all your money" (Berachot 54a). Thus, the high birth rate constituted a truly complete blessing.

The Hid"a zs"l adds that in this light we may explain the pasuk in Tehillim (107:41), "He secures the needy from suffering, and increases their families like flocks." After a poor person is removed from his state of poverty, the birth of many children is then a complete blessing for him!

"Benei Yisrael were fertile and prolific; they multiplied and increased very greatly"

Rabbi Rahamim Havitah Hakohen zs"l of Djerba presented the following parable. A farmer wanted to train his indolent son in agricultural work. He said to him, "This tree covers the seeds with its shade and thus prevents their growth - you must therefore uproot it." But the son did not want to go through the trouble, so he thought to himself, "It is not the tree itself that disrupts the growth, but rather the leaves that cast their shadow." So he went ahead and trimmed all the leaves, exposing the field to the sunlight. He sowed the field and waited for the produce to grow. Father and son went together to see the abundant produce, and their faces darkened. The shade had doubled, and total darkness covered the field; only a tiny amount of produce was to be found.

"Why did you not uproot the tree?" the father scolded.

"I don't understand," the lazy son replied. "True, I didn't remove the tree itself, but I trimmed all the leaves!"

The father shook his head and said, "Trimming the leaves accelerates the tree's growth."

Similarly, the Egyptians - and all enemies of Yisrael to this very day - issued decrees in an attempt to destroy us. But these decrees only strengthen us, just as the tree grows larger and stronger after its branches are trimmed!


Rabbi Shelomoh Bechor Hussin zs"l

Rabbi Shelomoh Bechor Hussin zs"l embodied Hazal's dictum, "One who loves misvot will not be satisfied with misvot." Hazal used this saying to interpret the pasuk, "One who loves kessef [money] will not be satisfied with kessef." The Hebrew word "kessef" can also mean yearning, as in the longing for spiritual elevation.

The sage loved misvot dearly and exerted himself to perform them at the highest possible standards as well in the study of Torah and heartfelt prayer. He studied a lot of Torah but never deemed himself worthy of greatness on this account. Instead, he transmitted his knowledge to others, guiding his people in the glorious path of avodat Hashem.

Just as he concerned himself with the spiritual well being of others, so did he work on behalf of their physical and material needs. However, he would always emphasize that everyone must happy with their lot in life and not waste away their years in the endless pursuit of wealth, jealousy and competition. This pursuit always brings with it frustration and anguish, as well as tension and social discord.

He once stood at the pulpit and told his audience the following story. A certain wealthy man once hung a beautiful sign at the entrance of his garden, that read, "This garden will be given as a gift to the person who his happy with his lot."

A certain person passed by, read the announcement and entered the man's house. "I came to ask for the garden, as I meet the demand," he said. He went on to explain that he is always content with the little he has and could bring reliable witnesses to testify that he never spends a penny when he could save it. He never acquires anything unnecessary and never throws away something used.

The owner of the garden smiled and said, "Sir, all this proves but one thing - that you are a perfect miser. "

A Treasury of Halachot and Customs of the Festivals of Yisrael, Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
by Rav David Yossef shlit"a

The Procedure for Kiddush on Leil Shabbat

The Recitation of Kiddush

After taking hold of the kiddush cup with his right hand, one begins reciting in a loud voice, "Yom hashishi vayechulu hashamayim. " He must have in mind to fulfill the obligation on the listeners' behalf, just as they must have in mind to fulfill their obligation through his recitation. The listeners should not respond, "Baruch Hu u'baruch shemo." Even if one recites kiddush alone, with nobody else present, he must recite it in an audible voice. If he cannot hear his recitation, he has nevertheless fulfilled his obligation "bedi'avad," so long as he pronounced the words. If, however, one does not recite the words but merely thinks the words of kiddush in his mind, he has not fulfilled his obligation. The Sefaradim should pronounce the berachah, "borei peri ha'GEFEN" and should not deviate from this practice. Some Ashkenazim, however, have the custom of pronouncing the final word, "ha'GAFEN." The one reciting kiddush must ensure not to begin the second berachah of kiddush until all the listeners answered "Amen" to his first berachah of "borei peri hagefen." He must wait even if they elongate the word "Amen." Similarly, he should not taste from the cup until the listeners finish answering "Amen" after the concluding berachah of "Mekadesh ha'Shabbat." The custom of the Sefaradim and Eastern communities is that the one reciting kiddush says, "Savri maranan" before his berachah over the wine, and the listeners then respond, "le'hayyim." He then begins the berachah. He should not begin the berachah until the listeners have finished saying, "le'hayyim."

Tasting From the Wine in the Kiddush Cup

The one reciting kiddush must drink the amount of a "melo lugmav" (the majority of a cheek-full) of wine from the cup (approximately 44 ml). It is a special misvah, however, for him to drink a full revi'it (approximately 86 ml). He should drink the wine all at once, rather than stalling. He should not drink the wine in small sips, but rather drink the required quantity all at once.

If the one who recited kiddush cannot drink the required amount from the cup of wine, then one of the listeners should drink instead. Preferably, however, the one reciting kiddush should himself drink the minimum required amount. (Some authorities maintain that if one cannot personally drink the wine he should preferably recite kiddush over bread, rather than having someone else drink in his stead.) "Bedi'avad," however, the drinking of several listeners can combine to meet the required amount of wine to be drunk.

There is a special misvah - as an expression of love for the misvah - for all the listeners to drink some wine from the kiddush cup, even if the one who recited kiddush himself drank the required amount. They should not, however, drink before the one reciting kiddush drinks. (If each person has his own cup in front of him, such as at the seder, then they may drink immediately after the one reciting concludes the kiddush, even before he drinks.) If it is difficult for the listeners to drink from the same cup from which the one who recited the kiddush drank, he should pour some wine from the cup before he drinks, and the listeners may then drink from the cup into which he poured. In any event, the listeners' drinking is not indispensable for the fulfillment of the misvah. They fulfill their obligation of kiddush even if they do not drink from the kiddush wine, so long as the one reciting kiddush drinks the required amount.


Eating Through a Filter

It is not to be believed - a huge whale that one would think swallows large creatures actually "filters" its food. How does this happen? The whale, as well as other fish, simply swim forward with their mouths wide open. A large whale can consume four tons of food through this filtering process. This quantity of food consists of tiny crabs and other small creatures that the whale filters from the water with its large mouth. This is but one method of eating through a filter. Birds that eat by filtering received from the Creator a type of sieve made from tiny, corneal plates situated towards the end of the beak. These birds filter through this sieve the water or mud containing their food. One egg-laying bird that enjoys fresh, filtered food is the ibis. The ibis stands in shallow water or in an egg and moves a bit forward with its head bent downward, appearing to "sweep" the thick mud with its long, wide beak. As it moves its head in regulated gestures, the beak is somewhat open allowing the dense water to pass through it. The moment the bird feels something live crawling inside the beak, it quickly closes it with a quick motion of the head.

The filtering action, whose generous assistance allows these creatures to survive, reflects the important principle of distinction between the important and unimportant, the central and the peripheral. This process of distinction is critical throughout one's life, and with regard to the observance of misvot, as well. Misvah fulfillment requires thought in order to perform misvot at the highest standard and with utmost purity without any harm from one's surroundings. Take, for example, one who enthusiastically fulfills the misvah of taking care of one's physical health, by ensuring to shake out the dust of the carpet over the porch - or even by washing the floor on his porch - without paying attention to on whose head everything falls. A Jew must remember that every performance of a misvah and good deed requires the activation of his "filters," situated in the brain. Thinking ahead of time allows for the best possible interaction between people, such that no one is insulted by something said or done innocently and with good will and intention. The filters of the mind and conscience can thus work towards the benefit of all of society, as it promotes genuine ahavat Yisrael.


A Match Made in Heaven (7)

Flashback: Havah Devorah was orphaned at a very young age and thus never had any relatives. At age eighteen she found herself working as a helper in a tavern, whose owners subjected her to very hard work under horrid conditions and their regular hostility. She found relaxation only on Shabbat, when she would pour out her soul while reciting Tehillim in the beautiful orchard without anyone around to hear. However, Tuvia, the orphan of a successful owner of beehives, heard her on his way home from tefilah and asked her why she cries.

For the first time, Havah Devorah told of her difficult life, which had become a living Gehinnom. She had to serve drunken peasants and suffer their jeers and slurs. The owners of the tavern had themselves adopted this unbecoming style of speech, interaction and conduct of their guests. She had previously lived in the city of Karlin, a suburb of Pinsk, among Jews who studied in the Bet Midrash. She would pray in the Bet Kenesset and lived a rich, Jewish life. Now, however, she felt as though she lived in bitter, oppressive exile, suffering from the hostile tongues of her hosts.

"On Shabbat I read the weekly parashah, recite Tehillim and study Tanach. I have now fulfilled that which is written there - 'When there is worry in a man's heart, he should speak of it.'" She continued tearfully, "Now, I would like to ask a favor. Please do not disclose anything of what I just told you. You cannot help, but who knows how much further harm you could cause, should they find out what I just said."

"G-d forbid!" Tuvia exclaimed. "Nobody will find out," he warmly reassured her.

"I'm afraid you forgot yet another pasuk," Havah Devorah added with a smile of torment. "Even in your bedroom do not curse a wealthy man - for the bird of the heaven will bring the voice, and a winged-creature will tell over the words."

Tuvia was confounded. He was embarrassed to tell her that in all his years he had learned only how to pray from a siddur. He knows not even a chapter of Humash, and had never learned any Nevi'im or Ketuvim.

"I feel better now that I have told all this," the girl said. "Please forget everything I told you." Forget?! How could he forget? He muttered a "Shabbat Shalom" wish and continued along his way, deeply absorbed in his thoughts. After all, she was right - what could he do?

Just then, the answer came to him. It was so clear and simple! If he could not do anything, the rabbi certainly could, as his authority included the village and the tavern. And, he knew the rabbi well. His deceased father had instructed him before his death to allocate one-tenth of his profits for charity and give it to the rabbi to distribute as he sees fit. He had already saved a considerable sum of money, and he must now go to the rabbi's home. While he is there, he thought, he would bring up the issue of the poor orphan girl.

This was his plan and exactly what he did. After tefilah and breakfast the next morning, he went to the home of the rabbi of Pinsk and said, "Rabbi, this time I have a request. The rabbi will decide whether or not to grant it."

"Let's hear," replied the esteemed rabbi.

Tuvia said, "I always give the money to the rabbi for him to distribute as he sees fit. This time may I ask if the rabbi will agree to allocate the money to a fund to marry off a poor orphan bride. "


Dear Brothers,

At times we face overwhelming pressures. We encounter an undesirable situation that we never wanted, that we certainly could have done without, but what can we do? People understand, even while they feel mercy. For example, a great Jew once said that people do not die from poverty - they die from shame. Poverty is a situation coerced upon an individual, Heaven forbid. The person must conduct himself accordingly and stretch out his hand for donations. "The necessary will not be condemned," people will understand. When Shelomoh Hamelech was king, he conducted himself accordingly. When he was driven away from his throne, in his great wisdom he acted as a poor person, until his fortunes again turned for the better.

Representatives of the left wing in Israel voice threats and warnings: we must give in, we must retreat, we must unilaterally separate, surrender our possessions, willingly forego, and revive the Oslo process. Why? Because otherwise, we will be torn by the demographic crisis, overrun by Arabs. True, this will not end at Green Line. We will therefore retreat as well from the Galilee, once and for all freeing ourselves of the problems posed by the Arab population there. And when the Arab population grows in the Negev, they will deal with the Negev Law passed by the Israeli government. If this weren't so frightening, it would be hilarious.

But worst of all, they hit us on the head with the potential demographic crisis and then discard it as a silly excuse. Hundreds of thousands of abortions have been conducted under government auspices in the State of Israel. We lost hundreds of thousands of Jews through sheer shortsightedness - national shortsightedness, as well as social, political and Jewish shortsightedness. While the "Efrat" organization works tirelessly to help families decide against abortion, it does not earn strong government support or proper funding. To the contrary, the government works against it. When a law was passed to assist large families, the leaders of the left block its implementation, claiming that it could increase the birthrate. As if to say, don't use the excuse of the demographic crisis. Let us be the minority, so we have an excuse to collapse.

My friends, let us voice our response by supporting as best we can the annual drive by the "Efrat" foundation to prevent abortions.

Shabbat Shalom,

Aryeh Deri

A Summary of the Shiur Delivered on Mossa'ei Shabbat by Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a

The Halachot of the Fast of Asarah Be'Tevet

The prophet Zecharyah (8:19) mentions four fasts to be observed in commemoration of the destruction, one of them being the tenth of Tevet - Asarah Be'Tevet. We fast on these days because of the calamities that occurred on those dates and to arouse our hearts to perform teshuvah. Recalling our and our ancestors' wrongdoing that led to these crises and tragedies throughout the years will lead us to repent and improve our ways.

The "fast of the fourth month" to which Zecharyah refers is subject to a dispute among the Tanna'im (Rosh Hashanah 18b). Whereas Rabbi Shimon identifies it as the fifth of Tevet, when the news of the destruction reached the Jewish population in Bavel (Yehezkel 33:21), we follow the view of Rabbi Akiva that it refers to the tenth of Tevet, when the Babylonian king besieged Yerushalayim (Yehezkel 24:1). Everyone must fast on these fasts, with the following exceptions. A pregnant woman from her third month of pregnancy is exempt from these four fasts except for Tisha Be'Av. If a woman within her first trimester of pregnancy suffers from vomiting and weakness, she may eat on these fasts, particularly after the first forty days (again, with the exception of Tisha Be'Av, as mentioned). A nursing woman is likewise exempt from the three fasts. Someone who is sick is exempt from all these fasts even should his illness pose no threat to his life, since Hazal never issued this decree of fasting in a situation of illness.

One who fasts on these fast days adds the paragraph of "anenu" in both the shaharit and minhah Amidah. He inserts anenu in the berachah of "shome'a tefilah," before the phrase, "ki Atah shome'a tefilat kol peh." However, only the hazzan recites the concluding berachah of the paragraph ("ha'oneh l'amo Yisrael. "), when he inserts it after the berachah of "go'el Yisrael." If the hazzan forgot to recite anenu in his repetition and remembers during the berachah of "refa'enu," then he recites anenu at that point and then continues with the berachah of "refa'enu." If he does not remember until he already recited "Baruch Atah Hashem" of the conclusion of the "refa'enu" paragraph, then he continues his repetition and adds anenu in the berachah of "shome'a tefilah," as individuals do in their Amidah.

According to some authorities, a hazzan recites anenu as an independent berachah only when there are ten men fasting in the congregation, and the hazzan may count towards this amount. However, the halachah follows the position that with regard to the four fasts mentioned in the pasuk, so long as six or seven men are fasting, the sheli'ah sibur may add anenu as its own berachah.

At shaharit and minhah the Sefer Torah is taken out from the aron for the reading of the parashah of "Vayehal." Although some authorities require the presence of ten people fasting for the Torah reading, the custom has evolved that we read this parashah on a fast day so long as six people fasting are present, and this custom has authorities on whom to rely. One who is not fasting due to illness and the like may not be called to the Torah for an aliyah on a fast day. Even if the only kohen present is not fasting, he should leave the Bet Kenesset so a Yisrael who is fasting can be called for the first aliyah. The same applies if the only levi present is not fasting; he should leave and the kohen receives his aliyah. Even if someone was already called, he must decline if he is not fasting, as according to some authorities his berachot will be considered "berachot levatalah." Even someone who has not yet broken his fast but plans on doing so later should not receive an aliyah for this Torah reading. One who is not fasting may, however, serve as the reader, if there is no one else present who knows how to read the Torah. During the recitation of Selihot on a fast day, two people should stand near the hazzan, one to his right and one to his left, just as Aharon and Hur stood alongside Moshe Rabbenu as he prayed during the battle against Amalek.

The Gemara in Masechet Ta'anit (11a) stresses the importance of participating in the distress of the nation. Therefore, even those who may eat on a public fast day should not indulge in excessive eating, but should rather limit their intake to what is necessary for their health.

Kohanim perform birkat kohanim on a fast day at minhah (as well as shaharit, as usual). Preferably, minhah services on a fast day should be held no earlier than forty minutes before sundown, so that birkat kohanim will take place within a half-hour of sunset. If a congregation conducts minhah from pelag haminhah (one and a quarter hours, as defined by halachah, before sunset), then optimally the kohanim should not recite birkat kohanim. If, however, they ascended the "duchan," they remain there and recite birkat kohanim. A kohen who is not fasting should not recite birkat kohanim; he should therefore leave when the other kohanim conduct birkat kohanim.

Luna Bat Miriam and Eliyahu Ben Masuda

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